Presented on Wednesday, May 20, 2009 in the Barn at Quarry Farm. Sam Clemens began his professional writing career as Mark Twain by repeatedly demonstrating that he was an "unsanctified" newspaper reporter, that is, an inveterate jokester, master of raillery, and yarnspinner. A madcap character whose fundamental comic tactic was to disturb normative middle-class thinking about what constituted respectability, Mark Twain allowed Sam Clemens to dramatize a comic vision of the world. Mark Twain enacts that comic vision by "playin' hell," that is, by embodying what proper society might call social "sins." These laughable antics of Mark Twain are meant to improve the body politic, comically highlighting communal values by disrupting them. This communal functions suggests a symbolic cultural role for Sam Clemens's literary alter ego: the Citizen Clown. Analogous to sacred clowns performing ritually within traditional societies, the Citizen Clown dramatizes what ought to be done in hims modern democratic society by behaving in ways that transgress social norms. Dr. Caron will show how Clemens's studied and artful humor of raillery operated in the first three phases of his professional writing career, from September 1862 to December 1886: his initial reporter's job in Virginia City, Nevada Territory; his freelance writing in San Francisco; and his first major assignment as a correspondent, reporting on the Kingdom of Hawai'i.
James E. Caron is a Professor of English at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. His publications include essays on the tall tale, on the role of evolution in comic laughter; antebellum comic writers in general as well as antebellum comic writers George Derby and George Washington Harris; Mark Twain; Frank Norris; Hunter S. Thompson; Charlie Chaplin; and Bill Waterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes. He has written a number of articles on Mark Twain and is the author of Mark Twain: Unsanctified Newspaper Reporter (2008).